|Interview with Craig DiLouie, author of
The Children of Red Peak
By D.W. Jones
After reading the novel The Children of Red Peak, I knew that
I had to interview Craig DiLouie about the novel and get a peek
of the inside workings of a mind that can blur the everyday
scare along with the supernatural until you can’t tell them
apart. We delve into how he started writing, his influences and
of course his novel. Also he give some good advice to upcoming writers. We thank Craig for
doing this interview and hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
D.W. Jones: How did you get started in writing? Did you always want to write?
Craig DiLouie: I absolutely always wanted to be a writer. Since the age of nine, really, though it wasn’t
until high school that I really caught fire with it. I grew up in a sleepy rural community with a difficult home
life, and fiction allowed me to escape—to visit other worlds, have exciting experiences, and be somebody
else for a while. At some point, I decided I wanted to create those worlds and experiences for others.
DWJ: Who were the people who influenced you to write?
CD: My biggest starting influence was probably Robert E. Howard, who wrote pulpy fiction in a number of
genres in the 30’s, though he is best known as the creator of Conan. Once I got serious about writing, I
had a number of influences, mostly great authors I was reading, as I believe to be a great writer you should
read, and each book you read has the potential to teach you something new about storytelling.
One big influence in my career ended up being British author David Moody, who was self-publishing
zombie fiction back before it was cool and encouraged me to try my hand at writing one. So I wrote a
zombie novel on a lark—TOOTH AND NAIL—and it sold so well that it put me in the fast lane on my very,
very long pilgrimage to publication with major publishers. Author Peter Clines was also very influential in
my career in that he connected me with my fantastic literary agent.
DWJ: Were you always into the horror genre? What were some of your favorite books or
movies in the horror genre?
CD: I got into the horror genre through the gateway drug of apocalyptic fiction, which was initially an
offshoot of my early love of sci-fi and fantasy. One zombie book led to two more, which led to an agent,
which led to my first horror novel being published with Simon & Schuster, which was SUFFER THE
CHILDREN. This was a vampire novel that examined how far parents would go if their children became
vampires and needed blood to survive. Yes, the kids are vampires, but the monsters in the book are the
parents will do anything for their kids. After its success, I moved over to Hachette, which has been a
dream to work with, and I produced several novels for them, including ONE OF US, a Southern Gothic
dark fantasy; OUR WAR, a speculative fiction novel about a second American civil war; and finally THE
CHILDREN OF RED PEAK, which was recently released under the company’s Redhook imprint.
For me, horror was easy to fall in love with. For films, it was simply a matter of digging deeper to get past
the overly commercial stuff I tend to find too adoring of torture or otherwise predictable and boring. For
books, it was easy to discover great authors like John Skipp, Jack Ketchum, and many others. Horror
fiction is really just another genre in which ordinary people are challenged by extraordinary circumstances
so that we find out what they’re made of, watch them change, and ultimately see them win or lose. The
horror element is a lot of fun, especially when a story turns a familiar trope on its head or examines its
consequences, or it otherwise has something interesting to say thematically while delivering a fun story
As for books and movies I’ve enjoyed, wow, I could give you a very long list. I tend to really love stories that
emphasize character first and/or have intriguing ideas, and if that fails, at least hit my funny bone. For
movies I’ve seen this year, I loved the great ideas in THE LAST EXORCISM and US, the compelling
artistry of LIGHTHOUSE and MIDSOMMAR and LA LLARONA, the realistic terror in THE BEACH
HOUSE, the heavy creep in ANTRUM and COLOR OUT OF SPACE, the gonzo pathos of MANDY, and
the humor in BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON and MOM AND DAD. XYZ Films in
particular is doing a lot of interesting work right now. As for books, I haven’t read as much horror as I
would have liked this year, but probably the most interesting and provocative stories I’ve read recently
would include CROOKED GOD MACHINE by Autumn Christian, which is absolutely wacky; UZUMAKI by
Junji Ito, which is insanely clever and disturbing; and THE ENGINES OF SACRIFICE by James
Chambers, a Lovecraftian collection that made me appreciate Lovecraft again. Probably my overall
favorite horror novel is still Jeff Long’s THE DESCENT, which I found simply mind blowing and will reread
every few years.
DWJ: Tell our readers a little about THE CHILDREN OF RED PEAK.
CD: THE CHILDREN OF RED PEAK is a psychological thriller with cosmic
horror elements. The novel is about a group of people who grew up in and
survived the horrific last days of an apocalyptic cult and years later are now
coping with the trauma of what they experienced. When one of them commits
suicide, the rest reunite to confront their past and the entity that appeared on
the final night. Peter Clines called it Heaven’s Gate by way of Stephen King’s
IT, and I think that captures it pretty well. Thematically, it’s about family, faith,
memory, and the human search for meaning in a chaotic universe.
The story is told in two timelines. In the first, we see the characters as children
growing up in a religious group that transforms quickly and logically into what
we could consider a dangerous cult. The second is them as adults who have
survived the tragedy and are now coping and seeking answers and closure,
which will ultimately take them back to Red Peak. My hope is that readers will consider it a very emotional
experience—a story that is creepy, makes them think as well as feel, and sticks with them long after they
close the covers.
DWJ: What compelled you to write about cults, specifically religious cults?
CD: I was fascinated by the psychology of them. Why would somebody join? How do they cope being in
one when it doesn’t pan out the way they expected? How can they go from believing one thing to believing
progressively wild doctrines? How do they leave? And if they leave, can they really ever truly free
themselves? I was also interested in exploring belief—how it’s a survival trait, how it can inspire great
moral achievement, and how it can also justify amazing evil. This exploration is where the real horror in
THE CHILDREN OF RED PEAK boils to the surface. Yes, the cult has a grisly end, and there are cosmic
horror elements, but the real horror in the book is what humans are capable of when they’re properly
motivated, and how trauma can end up ruling your life.
Overall, I was inspired by a reading of Genesis, where Abraham is told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac
on a mountain. Abraham is just about to bring the knife down when God tells him to stop. For some, this
is a powerful story of faith and obedience to God. For me, I wondered: What would that story sound like if
told from Isaac’s point of view?
DWJ: How did you go about researching the subject of cults? Have you had any personal
experience with the subject?
CD: No personal experience, thankfully, either via friends or otherwise. As for me, while I long for the
notion that our chaotic existence has some ultimate meaning, I’m not the joiner type, so I was never at risk.
But I can see the attraction of being love bombed by a group that provides a black and white world view
and a constant sense of security. Most of my research wasn’t into specific cults but instead into the
psychology of all this. Why people join, what it’s like to be in one, and so on, culminating in how good
people could logically go from believing in God’s love to committing acts of evil.
I should point out that although the religious group in the novel is an evangelical Christian group whose
ways may seem alternately alien and familiar to many readers, the story is respectful of specific beliefs as
it’s not about these beliefs. It’s the psychology of belief and what people do because of it that far more
interested me as a subject for critique.
DWJ: You've kept the characters grounded in reality where they are flawed and deeply affected
by their experience as kids for good and bad. You go as far as to where their adult occupations
reflect on how the dealt with the trauma they experience. Was this intentional from the
beginning or did it develop as the story progressed?
CD: It was absolutely intentional. As this is a character-driven story, I had to carefully plan out each
character. Not build a bio for them or anything, but give them all a strong character arc that would start at
childhood and end with them making a final big decision after returning to Red Peak.
The process I used was to create the character with a simple dominant personality trait as a child, then
show how that trait has now run amok as a coping mechanism in adulthood, and finally give them an
occupation that would reinforce their coping mechanism and also the flaw they need to fix to become
whole. The result is very real people who start out as children filled with innocence and belief, and end up
broken and avoiding facing what happened to them. It will take incredible strength for them to return to
Red Peak, where they will finally unlock the mystery that haunted them throughout their lives as adults.
DWJ: Did you make it a point to have the main characters David, Deacon and Beth divided in
how they viewed their experience in the Family of the Living Spirit as both happy and horrific?
CD: To an extent, yes, though that largely flowed naturally from the people I’d created. It’s amazing how
you can create a character, and the character ends up telling you who they are, what they want to say, what
they want to do next.
But yes, they have divergent views about what happened the last night and whether they should go back,
which stems from their different personalities and coping mechanisms. Nonetheless, they all agree that
the early years in their isolated, fervently Christian community were good ones. As children, they felt safe
and loved. It’s only when the Reverend returns from a mountain with news he talked to God that things start
to go bad. God said the end is near, just as the group had always believed, and they must go to the
mountain, where they would be taken to Heaven—but only if they pass a series of tests. Of course, they’re
going to go. Of course, they’ll do whatever they must to gain Heaven. It’s here when the darkness truly
DW: What do you have coming out or working on in the near future?
CD: Right now, I’m working on some self-published fiction, as when I’m not writing novel-length fiction for
big publishers, I produce pulpy, short, “dime novel” WW2 and other military fiction. I have two series
coming out next year. My first two, CRASH DIVE and ARMOR, did very well, and doing these series is a
lot of fun—especially the research part, as I love history.
DWJ: What words of wisdom can you give our readers who are interested in writing and how to
become a better writer?
CD: Always be writing, pursue every path to publication with what you produce, and hope for that X factor
in publishing to go your way and create a hit that will lead to more opportunities. The X factor might be
described simply as having the right book at the right place at the right time, and there’s unfortunately no
way to predict that.
Note that success is ultimately not an either/or thing, though, it’s a ladder with dozens of rungs, and that
there is no objective definition for success anyway. In my view, if you poured your heart out to write a story
and you finished it, you’re a writer and you’re a success, only now you’re ready to challenge yourself to
climb the next rung.
Besides that, my final advice would to always be learning and honing your craft, either through reading,
going to conferences and writing groups, or both. The conferences are great because they offer the bonus
of networking, which can multiply success by opening doors, and the fellowship is fantastic. Surround
yourself with people who are positive about writing and supportive of your passion for it.
|For interview with Craig
DiLouie, author of The
Children of Red Peak,